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Are the Marlins a legitimate contender?

The Marlins begin the day one game out of first in the National League East. But their staying power near the top of the standings has had more to do with the mediocrity that permeates the division than it does with any great success on their part.

These were the NL East standings to start the day on May 9, the last time Jose Fernandez would take the mound for the Marlins:

Miami            20-15        --

Washington    19-15        .5

Atlanta          18-15       1.0

New York       16-17       3.0

Philadelphia   15-18       4.0

Counting the Marlins' loss in San Diego on that fateful night at Petco Park, their record since has been 15-19. But their division rivals have been puttering along, too. The Nationals have gone 16-18 since then. The Mets (15-22) and Phillies (15-20) are also staggering. Only the Braves have managed to play .500 ball -- but exactly .500 with an 18-18 mark.

"I wouldn't say anything's mediocre about any of those teams, including us," said manager Mike Redmond. "But nobody's been able to take that big streak. This year it seems like everybody's a couple or three games over .500, then they'll lose three or four in a row, and kind of allow everybody to stay in. For us, it's great being that we've gone through this spell where we haven't really played that great (and are still in it). I think we're waiting to get hot."

So the question becomes, are the Marlins really a playoff caliber team? Or is their relative success a mirage waiting to disappear the moment some other team in the division finally gets going and takes off?

Open for discussion....

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Jake Marisnick singled twice, walked and stole two bases in his first game up on Monday, after which manager Mike Redmond said he felt a little like a kid waking up on Christmas. Or something to similar to that feeling, anyhow.

"It kind of feels like a new toy out there," Redmond said. "He brings that weapon, being able to steal a base. We don't have a lot of speed. (But) he's a guy that can raelly change a game with his legs. It's fun to watch. He's aggressive and he's not scared, and I think you saw that in the way he played tonight."

The only other time this season that a Marlins has stolen at least two bases in a game was on June 6 at Wrigley Field when Christian Yelich swiped a pair. The Marlins rank last in the NL in stolen bases with 23.

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Extra-inning games and brief outings by Marlins starters have conspired to tax the bullpen during the homestand. Marlins relievers have been required to cover 23 1/3 innings during the four games, or more innings (21 2/3) than the starters have provided during the stretch.

Of course, it doesn't help matters that the Marlins have had to play three extra-inning games during that span, including a pair of 13-inning marathons. But the starters of late, outside of Henderson Alvarez, haven't been logging their fair share of the load, either.

"I think our bullpen, for the most part, has done a really nice job, eating up a lot of innings," Redmond said. "We're eating up a ton of innings."

Bryan Morris has been a positive addition to the pen. Morris, obtained in that Pirates deal for a draft pick, has delivered 9 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball for the Marlins since joining the team.

But the heavy useage in recent days has left the Marlins thin in the pen for tonight's game. "We definitely have some guys down there we'd like to stay away from," Redmond said. "We're beat up down there."

Redmond said Sam Dyson and Jacob Turner are available tonight. But, beyond that.....Redmond said rookie starter Anthony DeSclafani needs to pitch deep.

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Have you noticed Chris Hatcher's numbers his past few outings? He's striking out everything in sight. In fact, he has established a new Marlins record. Of the last 13 outs he has recorded, 12 have been whiffs. No Marlins pitcher had ever done that before over any 13-out span, according to the good folks at the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I'm throwing the ball down," Hatcher said. "Once you get the ball down, other pitches become a big asset. Guys don't know what to look for. I feel like I'm pitching more like I do in the minors. It also goes back to a trust thing, having at least two pitches (fastball and splitter) you know you can throw for strikes. When you have the confidence that can throw two pitches for strikes, that confidence builds into a third pitch."

Hatcher doesn't consider himself a strikeout pitcher. But they're still coming in bunches for him.

"If you look at the run I've had right now, it's 1-2, 0-2 on every at bat," Hatcher said. "So you've got your foot on the gas and they don't know what you're doing. When you put the pressure on the hitter, it changes big time."

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Everyone was still talking on Tuesday about Giancarlo Stanton's opposite-field line drive home run the night before. Redmond said it was the hardest ball he's ever seen hit, eclipsing a Gary Sheffield rocket off Antonio Alfonseca back in his playing days.

But perhaps no one was more impressed with it than the one person who is hardest of all to impress with his shots: Stanton himself.

"I was tring to hit a line drive to second base and even when I hit it, I was like, all right, cool, I've got an RBI and I'll be on second," said Stanton, who thought the ball would hit the wall in the corner. "And then it stayed up. That's probably the most surprising home run I've ever hit, at least in terms of the home run being the last thing on my mind for the at bat and after I hit it, I thought I got the job done."

The ball was never more than 20-25 feet above the ground at any point and maintained a relatively straight trajectory from the time it left his bat until it struck a railing and kept on going after clearing the wall. If you haven't seen it, check it out:

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